VGAs 2012: a new hope (despite the Newell gaffe)

Saturday, 8 December 2012 13:29 GMT By Catherine Cai

Two steps forward, one step back. Last night’s VGAs showed reason to hope for a respectable awards event in the years to come. They might want to leave Garry out of it next time, though. Catherine Cai reports from LA.

Despite the GameStop-endorsed goody codes and Jessica Alba’s wince-worthy, half-heartedly delivered monologue about her alleged addiction to Super Mario, this year’s VGAs gained some credibility by recognizing the existence of indie games.

The criticisms hurled at the VGAs for their commerciality and superficiality have long been established. From the Hollywood-loaned stars wandering the red carpet to the Mountain Dew endorsements, the VGAs are the video games industry’s attempt at a legitimate awards show to match the likes of the Grammys or the Oscars. Fittingly, the entire event is hosted at Sony’s extravagant production studio in LA, sandwiched between movie sets and Wheel of Fortune.

This year, the VGAs reached pre-pubescence by turning ten. In doing so, they decided to grow up a little.

In years past, the VGAs have attempted to juggle the glitz and glam of other mainstream awards shows with puerile humor, and failed dismally at both. This year was no different. Movie, TV and music stars were still paraded as red carpet attractions in an effort to bring in mainstream attention (since the industry doesn’t have any A-list celebrities of its own), and immature jokes were still thrown in for cheap laughs.

Yet, despite the GameStop-endorsed goody codes and Jessica Alba’s wince-worthy, half-heartedly delivered monologue about her alleged addiction to Super Mario, this year’s VGAs gained some credibility by recognizing the existence of indie games. Not one, but two – thatgamecompany’s Journey and Telltale’s The Walking Dead – won big at the ceremony. Two indie titles being nominated for the Game of the Year Award and one of them actually winning – over the likes of Assassin’s Creed 3, Dishonored, and Mass Effect 3, no less – is an enormous step up from last year’s show, where indie games were quietly recognized in a giant list of awards barely given ten seconds of air time.

If the endorsements of The Walking Dead and Journey are an indication of anything, it’s the mainstream culture recognition and acceptance of indie games, and, almost certainly, of video games in general.

But, though this year’s awards get a gold star for being the best in recent memory, it doesn’t mean that the show’s producers ought to clap themselves on the backs, congratulate each other for a job well done, and stick to the same formula. Improvement doesn’t necessarily mean a job well done.

Slapping on the gloss

For one, a breather from the in-your-face endorsements and borrowed celebrities would be nice. Understandably, generating the required hype and views to keep something like the VGAs going requires a touch of Tenacious D and a smattering of bad “Sam” Jackson jokes. But while there was no complete rehash of the tactic of quickly skipping through numerous awards in an effort to make more time for the entertainment from 2011, plenty of awards were still glossed over in favor of the acts. How many more awards could have actually gotten screen time had Snoop Lion not been given his excessive entrance to the stage? One of the major things that hold the VGAs back from being recognized as a respected awards show is that its emphasis has never been on the awards.

Yep. It happened.

It also might be high time to do without the immature jokes. Sure, this year didn’t feature the tea-bagging Call of Duty soldier or the pointless pseudo-Japanese game show, but the incessant Samuel Jackson jokes, though somewhat chuckle-worthy at first, became agitating and pointless. We get it. Samuel Jackson likes video games and is a badass who can therefore be bad at kicking ass in video games. We get it. That’s not to say that the VGAs ought to do adopt a serious tone, but the puerile humor doesn’t reflect well on the image of the industry. At the ripe age of ten, it’s time to put on the big boy pants and grow up.

Finding a side-screen host who’s confident in their authority on games might also be a good move. One of the biggest facepalm moments of the show was when Alison Haislip of Attack of the Show! fame called Gabe Newell ‘Garry‘ and didn’t bother to correct herself until hours later via Twitter (to an account that isn’t actually Gabe Newell.) Though on-screen slip ups are understandable and do happen, one probably does not call one of the most recognizable people in games by the wrong name. The side-screen featured the likes of Kotaku’s Stephen Totilo and IGN’s Casey Lynch: why not have someone of the same caliber step in and host the show?

VGA 2012 was a step forward. Not a hugely progressive one, but the show’s producers should be lauded for taking criticisms of last year’s show to heart. The VGAs of 2011 left me unsure of whether or not I wanted to revisit this year. Fortunately, the minor improvements that have been made leave me optimistic of better changes come 2013. In a few years, the VGAs could be the awards show the industry actually wants and respects. There’s still hope.

VGAs 2012 took place last night in Los Angeles. Get full news coverage here.

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